MOSCOW - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Jan. 27 on a visit to Moscow that the United States planned to set up some military bases in former Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe but that this was not aimed against Russia.
"We are trying to rearrange our presence in Europe to rationalize it in the best way. As part of that effort we may want to put some temporary facilities in some of the countries that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact," Powell told the Moscow Echo radio.
"But these would not be big bases of the kind that we had in Germany during the days of the Cold War. These might be small places where we could go and train for a brief period of time or use air bases as access to get to dangerous crisis places in Central Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
The United States has for some time been considering relocating bases from Germany and shifting resources to new NATO members in the east and officials have hinted they are interested in placing bases in any number of countries including Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.
Moscow's reaction to earlier similar messages from Washington - the most recent of which was delivered last month - has been uneasy at best, with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov saying he would view any eastward expansion of U.S. or NATO forces with "obvious concern."
Speaking on Russian radio, Powell said, "But is not essentially moving our army closer to the Russian Federation, and people should not see it in that way. The number of troops overall will be going down, therefore we are not trying to surround anyone."
The United States has been considering relocating bases from Germany and shifting resources to new NATO members in the east. However, European military sources in Eastern Europe have said that Washington sees that the main threat to stability has moved from the borders of Russia to the southeast and would rather move its bases to countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, closer to potential hot spots.
A U.S. or NATO base in the Baltics would likely enrage Moscow, which opposed the entry of the former Soviet republics into the Western military alliance. The three Baltic states are in a group of seven former communist bloc nations that have received invitations to join the alliance and are expected to formally join the bloc in May.